Saturday, January 31, 2009

Battlestar Galactica, "The Oath": Operator, information please

Spoilers for last night's "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I organize a fire drill...
"He won't be the last." -Tom Zarek
After two episodes of watching the characters despair over a never-ending onslaught of terrible news, "The Oath" finally sees some of them taking action over it. It was an hour that provoked as visceral a reaction -- dread, mostly, with occasional punctuations of "Hell yeah!" -- as any "Galactica" episode has in a while.

What made "The Oath," written by series vet Mark Verheiden (click here for his episode post-mortem interview with Mo Ryan) and directed by modern noir specialist John Dahl, provoke such strong feelings from me (and based on the impatient e-mails I've gotten asking for this review, everyone else) wasn't just the meticulous way they showed how Gaeta and Zarek pulled off the mutiny. It was how they showed, again and again, characters using the mutiny as an excuse to settle old scores, or, even worse, to let off all of the steam that's built up over this awful four-year journey.

Because the storytelling largely focuses on the upper echelons of the Galactica command structure, we only occasionally get glimpses of how the rest of the rag-tag fleet must feel about all the ordeals they've suffered post-genocide. But of course soldiers from Pegasus would still hold grudges over Adama killing their commander. Of course Anders' ex-girlfriend (or, rather, never-quite-girlfriend) would be furious to realize that the man she was so hung up on isn't a man at all. Of course Lee would be resented for his role in Baltar's trial. Of course the civilian fleet would be fed up with all of Adama's high-hand tactics, and would eagerly greet any opportunity to rebel. Of course the other pilots would fear and distrust Starbuck after her miraculous return from the dead -- What is she? And if she's just Kara, what makes her so special when none of the dead people we actually liked could come back? -- and even moreso when they realized her husband was a Cylon. And, for that matter, of course Starbuck would use this fiasco as an excuse to compartmentalize all her recent angst over who and what she is and get back to being the best at what she does (and what she does isn't very nice).

Verheiden's script very cleverly lets Lee -- a non-mutineer, and one of the few characters who still has a relatively clean conscience -- argue that Gaeta and Zarek have a point about the Cylon alliance. Because Zarek is probably driven as much by power-lust as by his own beliefs, and because Gaeta's own motivations are clouded by everything that he's suffered over the last four years, it's easy to overlook the relative nobility of their cause. But they're probably right. Whatever the practical value of installing the Cylon tech, whatever we know about the rebel Cylons' change of heart, this is still the man who didn't even want to network his computers four years ago now inviting representatives of humanity's greatest foe to install technology no humans actually understand. What happens if Cavil shows up again and has the ability to take control of all the jump drives?

And so even as Zarek is clubbing poor Laird to death, even as Gaeta is twirling his metaphorical mustache while becoming the world's most bad-ass telephone operator, even as those Pegasus vets are promising to revive the old Cain tradition of institutionalized Cylon rape, it wasn't as easy as I wanted it to be to root for Starbuck to start blowing away the bad guys, to cheer on Adama and Tigh as they proved yet again that "old" doesn't necessarily mean "weak." I want the characters I like to survive, want to see Gaeta and Zarek brought to justice but... they're right.

For all the emotional power and rock-em-sock-em action of "The Oath," there were a few spots I found disappointing, and/or that made me lament how much must get left on the cutting room floor each week, and how Ron Moore's fondness for letting major events happen off-camera sometimes gets in theway of the stuff he actually chooses to show. Lee asking Tyrol why he was helping them escape implied there had been a greater rift between Tyrol and humanity than we've seen in the last couple of episodes. Anyone who didn't watch the "Face of the Enemy" webisodes probably missed the added layer of tension between Gaeta and Hoshi (who used to be a couple), and also Baltar's reason for calling Felix. (Baltar was referring to the stuff we learned in the webisodes, right?) Roslin's decision to re-enter the world happened off camera (she was already dressed, wigged and ready to do something to help when Lee and Kara came to her door), and I really didn't like much of the Baltar stuff in the final third.

What we've seen of Baltar over the course of this fourth season says that, while he started off the cult thing as a con job and a survival mechanism, he had grown to believe his own sermons. So to see him back to being cowardly, insincere and solely motivated by self-preservation felt like a cheat -- an easy joke to lighten the tension. For that matter, when last we left the Baltar/Roslin relationship, they had achieved a detente, and she had found a way to let go of her hatred of the guy. To see them sniping at each other again really undercut the moving climax of "Hub," I thought.

But still, as a pure thriller, and a gut-punch, you don't get much better than a cliffhanger that left the local Cylons locked in the brig and preparing to be raped, Roslin and Baltar's ship about to be blown out of the sky, and Adama and Tigh making a last stand in a blind alley of Galactica.

"To be continued..." Evil. They're evil!

Some other thoughts:

• Poor, poor Laird. Other than maybe Cally, has any notable character in the run of the show gotten as short an end of the stick as that guy? First he has to watch his family killed by Cain's goons, then he's pressed into military service, and now this?

• The dialogue about the secondary storage hatch implied that it played a significant role in an earlier episode, but I can't for the life of me remember. Anyone?

• Whatever Gaeta's motivations, Alessandro Juliani is playing the hell out of his moment. Watching him hobble around on that fake leg makes him seem more and more like Tigh on New Caprica, having lost a vital body part to the Cylons and trying not to let that slow him down.

As always, let me remind you: no talking about the previews, or anything you've read online, or anything that could even vaguely be considered a spoiler. Anything along those lines will be deleted, quickly. We clear?

What did everybody else think?
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Friday, January 30, 2009

Good housekeeping

Four bits of blog-related business, tied to "Friday Night Lights," "Battlestar Galactica," "Chuck" and "Scrubs":

• As I mention every Friday, I'm re-posting the original versions of my "Friday Night Lights" reviews from the DirecTV run to retain the comments, which means that the reviews won't ping anyone's RSS reader. So if you follow the blog that way, you need to click here to read the review of episode three, "How the Other Half Lives."

• I'm not getting "Battlestar Galactica" episodes in advance anymore. As I discussed on this week's "Lost" review, I'm faced with the choice of getting something done quick or doing it right, and I'm choosing the latter. So don't expect a review until sometime tomorrow at the earliest. Do not use this post or any other to discuss tonight's episode.

• If you're attending the New York Comic-Con next weekend (Feb. 6-8), I'm going to be moderating the "Chuck" panel -- featuring Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak and Yvonne Strahovski -- on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Originally, it was just going to be Schwartz and Fedak, which would have been incredibly nerdy. I'd say Yvonne Strahovski significantly lowers the overall nerd factor, but you never know -- she could turn up espousing the genius of Zot! or John Byrne or something. If anything interesting comes up, I'll include a mini-report in my review of the Feb. 9 episode of "Chuck."

• I was told earlier this week that ABC's plan for "Scrubs" was to air repeats of this season's first six episodes from now until the show moves to a new timeslot on Wednesdays in mid-March. I'm guessing somebody did the math and realized there would be too many remaining episodes to air them all between March 18 and the end of the season, because now I'm told there will continue to be back-to-back originals on Tuesdays for at least the next two weeks. Click here to read the full post

Friday Night Lights, "How the Other Half Lives": Copper blue

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode three coming up just as soon as I quote "Finding Nemo"...

NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.

So here's my question of the week: Is JD McCoy bad or is he just drawn that way?

Certainly, Joe McCoy is bad, at least within the moral framework of "Friday Night Lights." Throughout the season, but especially throughout "How the Other Half Lives," McCoy the elder is doing everything he can to force Eric into benching Matt and starting JD. By now, he has the boosters and the whole town so caught up in a fever for JD and the spread offense that no one can even recognize that poor Matt left everything out there on the field against Arnett Mead. All they want is the kid with the rocket arm, and given the weaker position Eric's been in ever since he returned from TMU, I suspect he's going to have to give the people what they want, sooner or later.

But again, are we supposed to hate JD for the fact that his dad is overbearing and obsessed with his son's success, that he has an expensive private QB coach who's also a massive douchebag (check out Wade's smirk after Saracen fumbled the ball), that events around him are pushing him into a position to take our beloved Matt's job? What, exactly, does JD want? He's said all of two or three sentences all season, and his one big moment in this episode, where he finds Matt and Julie cracking jokes about his trophy room, could be read one of two ways: either he's just as arrogant as his support system, or he's embarrassed by just how much his father dotes on his success.

The reason I'm so curious about this is in part because JD hasn't had much to do or say for such a central figure to the season, in part because how the writers perceive him (and want us to perceive him) is going to say a lot about where this story is going. Is he just Voodoo 2.0, the hotshot imported QB who will send Matt to the bench for a week or two before his cockiness proves his undoing? Or is the first building block for a hypothetical "Friday Night Lights" season four, in which all of the current high school characters will have graduated?

(And, no, they won't be able to reboot Saracen's age as easily -- relatively speaking -- as they did with Riggins and Lyla and Tyra. While it was always implied that they were seniors like Street, it was never explicitly said, whereas last season Smash pointed out that Matt would be a senior the following year.)

Now, I don't know if Jason Katims has even allowed himself to think about a fourth season -- and before anyone asks about the ratings, it's going to depend less on that than it will on how valuable DirecTV thinks the show is for getting new subscribers, and therefore how much of the budget they'd be willing to pick up next time -- but I'm almost hoping that this is what JD is here for. We saw the Voodoo story already. I think it would be a lot more interesting if JD proved to be not only a good quarterback, but a good kid -- the sort Eric would be proud to coach, in the same way he was with Street and Saracen -- because then we get back into some interesting morally grey territory that the show was afraid to enter last season. Right now, it's easy to root for Eric and for Matt to triumph against the rich meanies, but what if the meanies are right? And what if Meanie Jr. isn't so mean?

Overall, this episode did a great job of building the obvious tension on Eric and Matt, and then they capped it with one of the show's best, most intense game sequences ever. Great editing, sound design, the works. I don't know if Zach Gilford lost his voice halfway through the shoot or if he was just playing it that way, but hearing Matt sound so raw really worked. And then, just when we've been convinced that we're going to get another fairytale sports movie ending for the Panthers on Matt's brilliant scramble, he loses control of the ball and the next thing you know there are For Sale signs scattered all over Eric's lawn. (That's a detail going back at least to the Buzz Bissinger book.)

It helped that Tami is trapped in her own vice grip right now, and I suspect that the Jumbotron and JD stories are going to merge very soon, with the McCoys offering to help Tami out of her jam in exchange for a little rhythm from her husband. And what's great about this story compared to last year's Taylor marital tensions is that we're seeing glimpses of the husband and wife who really love each other at the same time we're seeing them fight, where last year it was just a lot of fighting. Connie Britton did this perfect little squint as Eric began to compliment Tami about how sexy she was, as she could tell how the conversation was going to go and yet couldn't completely hate on the man saying that. And I loved this little exchange between Eric and Tami:

"You know who I miss? I miss the coach's wife."
"You know who I can't wait to meet? The principal's husband."
"Touche."


Last year, I think we get the first two lines but not the "Touche."

Some other thoughts on "How the Other Half Lives":

* I didn't like tonight's Smash story at all. It's like they signed Gaius Charles for four episodes and then tried to figure out how to use him, as opposed to coming up with four episodes worth of material about the Smash. No viewer in their right mind would think Smash would actually take the Alamo Freeze job, not after Coach had spent the last two episodes building his confidence back up, so this just felt like they needed to stall for an episode before he presumably aces the Texas A&M tryout and leaves the series for good.

* After the murder and the Riggins boys stealing from Ferret Guy, I could do without the show ever getting one of its characters involved in felonies or misdemeanors for a while, but Billy begging Tim to help him steal some copper wire felt a lot more natural than the previous crime stories. And I laughed when the guard dogs just kept on running right past the truck and to freedom.

* Also funny: Lyla completely putting her foot in her mouth by laughing at Mindy's use of "Finding Nemo" dialogue for her wedding vows. It's nice to be reminded that Lyla can't always control the mean girl reflex, and that it's probaby not a good idea to let it loose in front of the woman who broke up her parents' marriage.

* Anyone who's ever read "The Tipping Point," admit it: just like Katie McCoy, you too spent the first few months after reading it going around and bragging to everyone about how you're "a connector."

* Saracen's monologue to Julie in the cafeteria may be the most we've ever heard him say in one burst, and that's not necessarily a good thing. It's the first time on the show that Zach Gilford sounded like he was from Illinois (which he is) instead of Texas; the accent just went for a grocery run in the middle of that speech.

What did everybody else think?
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The Beast, "Nadia": Georgia on my mind

Brief spoilers for last night's "The Beast" coming up just as soon as I get some prison ink...

I'm still waiting for this show to rise up to the level of Patrick Swayze's performance, and it's still not coming close. The case of the week was slightly less predictable than the one from episode two, but it gave way too much of the episode's screentime to Travis Fimmel and barely dealt with the larger question of whether Barker's dirty and in what way.

Also, from a more superficial standpoint, I prefer seeing (but not living in) Chicago in winter rather than the warm climate that we've reached by this point in the production. Still lots of cool architecture, but not quite as distinctive without tons of snow on the ground.

I'm in for a little while, still, because shows like this can take a while to find themselves, but I keep having to recalibrate my hopes downward.

What did everybody else think?
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Sepinwall on TV: 'The Office' Super Bowl episode review

In today's column, I preview "The Office" episode that's going to air after the Super Bowl:
For a long time, I was disappointed that NBC chose "The Office" as the show to air after the Super Bowl. That's in no way a slight on "The Office," which has been on an amazing sustained run, dating to when it returned from the writers' strike last spring.

It's just that it's in its fifth season and likely as popular as it's ever going to be. It doesn't really need the added exposure, whereas NBC has two other wonderful, underperforming comedies in "Chuck" (which has a nifty 3-D episode airing Monday) and "30 Rock" (which, next week, guest-stars Jon Hamm from "Mad Men") that could use whatever long-term boost -- if one still exists -- comes from getting such a gigantic lead-in audience.

Then I watched the first five minutes of the post-Super Bowl "Office" episode, titled "Stress Relief," and all doubt disappeared. "Chuck" and "30 Rock" are both brilliant and deserve bigger ratings than they get now, but this is the right episode for the biggest stage television has left. At a time when we all desperately need something to laugh at, this is an hour of concentrated, explosive, 180-proof comedy.
To read the full thing, click here. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Burn Notice, "Hot Spot": Where's Wallace?

"Burn Notice" spoilers coming up just as soon as I get a few dozen phonebooks...
"There's an element of theater in any offensive campaign. It's not just about bullets and bodies. Killing people usually creates more problems than it solves. It's about undermining your enemy's will to fight -- destroying the morale of his troops. Sending the message that fighting back is useless, because the battle is already lost." -Michael
I'm usually a big fan of Entertainment Weekly's TV coverage, but today's blog entry by lead critic Ken Tucker is the second time in a couple of weeks that someone from that magazine has complained about the current state of "Burn Notice," the gist of which is that they don't like Carla, or the mythology around the burn notice, or Michael and Fi's relationship, and would like the show to get back to focusing more on Michael, Fi and Sam using their international skills at the local level.

Now, I don't know if either of those pieces were written just off of last week's episode (which I clearly liked more than them) or if they had also seen "Hot Spot," but I'm having a hard time seeing the merit of those complaints after this one.

After never really caring one way or the other about the state of the Michael/Fi romance, the sight of a rain-drenched Michael discovering that Fiona was alive and realizing how much he cared for her -- and Fi, upon seeing that look on his face, realizing she felt the same way about him -- I'm fully on board this 'ship. Call it corny or cliche or whatever, but Jeffrey Donovan and, especially, Gabrielle Anwar, sold the hell out of it. "Burn Notice" is about a man who usually denies his own emotions, because it's the only way he can function in his chosen profession. But these moments the last two weeks where Michael has let his feelings show (anger last week, love tonight) have only enhanced the character, in my opinion, rather than taking away his mystique. If you don't occasionally see glimpses of what he's trying to hold inside, you can't appreciate what an effort that is, for both character and actor. And, for the purposes of this show, Michael and Fi are kind of a perfect couple -- they already work together, they share loads of common interests (guns, explosives, wetwork) and aren't really into the mushy stuff -- who won't get in the way of the storytelling most of the time.

(Mo Ryan, who usually can't stand Fiona, e-mailed me after watching the episode with an ode to Fi that included the line, "Who knew I'd end up not only not detesting her, but liking what she adds to the show?")

And while it doesn't feel like the Carla arc has really gone anywhere in a while, even with the introduction of this mysterious third party, I just love watching Donovan and Tricia Helfer circle each other, each one convinced they're the shark and the other one's the chum. There's this wonderful flirtatious vibe to their scenes together, where it's hard to separate what's real (Donovan and Helfer are both attractive physical specimens, Michael and Carla both clearly admire the other one's skills) and what's an attempt to get over on the other. I'm sure in both their heads, they're completely winning this particular mind game, when in fact it's a complete stalemate.

And even with all the arc stuff going on, and the obligatory Super Bowl synergy cameo by Michael Irvin, the episode still managed to tell another entertaining "Burn Notice" case of the week, which was extra cool for pitting Michael B. Jordan (aka Wallace from "The Wire" season one) vs. Sticky Fingaz (aka Kern from "The Shield"). The slo-mo montage of Michael, Sam and Fi suiting up to get into character as rival car thieves filled my heart with Barney Stinson levels of joy, and the guide to bullet-proofing a car was one of the better lessons in hardware store espionage we've gotten in a while.

If there was one thing I found disappointing, it was that Michael's psychological terror campaign got derailed by the arrival of Felix's boss. It provided an easier solution for the problem, but I would have liked to see Michael continue to step it up on Felix, and maybe to also show what happens when the spy mentality (cold, calculating, all business) goes up against the street gangster mentality (where reputation trumps common sense or dollar figures).

But come on: Michael dropped a coffee can full of thermite on top of Felix's engine block. That in and of itself should qualify for my dayeenu rule.

What did everybody else think?
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Lie to Me, "Moral Waiver": The soldier who cried rape

Quick spoilers for last night's "Lie to Me" -- and why the show has earned That's It For Me! status -- coming up just as soon as I wash my hands...

I'm good. Don't need to see any more.

As I said last week, the "Lie to Me" pilot was relatively well-executed -- Tim Roth is charming, Kelli Williams is a lot more interesting here than she ever was on "The Practice," learning about the various tells is engaging to a point -- but not something that I ever needed to see again. It's a good formula, but not one that's appealing enough for me to stick around. "House," in contrast, is also extremely formulaic, but Hugh Laurie is so funny, and the medical mysteries usually compelling enough within the formula, that I'm still there five seasons in.

I put on episode two to be sure that they'd be sticking to that formula, and they did, and I'm out. Neither case interested me in the slightest, the micro-expressions are already losing their novelty, and while Roth is fine, Lightman isn't colorful enough to elevate the material the way House does.

So unless I hear down the road that the show started deviating significantly from the formula, I don't think I need to stick around.

What did everybody else think?
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Fringe, "The No-Brainer": Bring me the head of Frank Sobotka!

Quick, belated spoilers for Tuesday night's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I buy a stained glass window for the local church...

Got a chance to watch this last night, and it was definitely not one of the show's better efforts. Aside from the pleasure of seeing "Wire" alums Chris Bauer (Sobotka) and Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow) in the same episode as Lance Reddick (though none of them ever had scenes with each other), there wasn't much here to latch onto. The teaser with the hand coming out of the computer monitor was suitably disturbing, but the rest of the hour didn't live up to that, instead feeling like those generic early episodes before we were introduced to The Observer.

Plus, the Michael Gaston character needs to go away, immediately. This kind of character -- the outside supervisor who's there to tell our heroes why everything they're doing is wrong -- almost never works (see Vogler or Tritter on "House" for two other examples that ground their shows to a halt). The guy's so obviously wrong about everything, plus he beat a sexual assault rap, plus he doesn't even have an interesting personality. So he adds nothing, except whatever newbie-friendly exposition he provided last week.

What did everybody else think?
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lost, "Jughead": How to dismantle a hydrogen bomb

Spoilers for "Lost" season five, episode three coming up just as soon as I find out what year this is...

"I won't leave you again. Not for this. Not for anything." -Desmond

As "Lost" season five continues to grapple with the unstuck-in-time nature of the island, it seems appropriate to have an early episode devoted to both our resident time-traveler and our resident time-travel expert. Other characters figure into the narrative (though none of the Oceanic Six, nor Ben, which gives the hour a more streamlined feeling than either of last week's), but really, this is the story of what Desmond is willing to do with the knowledge he gains from his flashes, and of what extreme, possibly reprehensible, lengths Daniel Faraday went to in order to master this outlaw brand of science.

Now, "Jughead" also detonates a hydrogen bomb-level piece of information about the show's mythology, as we find out that the British soldier from the end of "The Lie" is not only an Other, but a young Charles Widmore. This puts the Ben/Widmore power struggle into an entirely new light. Because Widmore moves in time (or, rather, doesn't move) when the setting shifts for Faraday, Sawyer and company, we can assume he's a native Other, too, or at least a long-standing resident of the island, or in some way immunized from all the time jumps. (The accent probably suggests he's a non-native, unless all of The Others somehow have their own individual dialects.) And that, in turn, makes it clear why Widmore believes he has a rightful claim to the island that Ben stole from him(*), and again raises new questions about who's the hero and who's the villain.

(*) Or did the island/Jacob make the choice, in the same way that Ben was cast out so that Locke could take over leadership of The Others? Does the timeline allow for Ben and Widmore to have co-existed as Others? He obviously had to be back in the real world with enough time to father Penny and build his business empire, but the time-skipping nature of the island allows for some flexibility. After all, Alan Dale (who plays Widmore) would have been a little kid at the time of the events of "Jughead," yet Widmore's a man in his 20s in 1954. So either Dale is playing older than he is, or we're dealing with some serious time-travel shenanigans. A lot of this obviously depends on whether Richard is the only Other who doesn't age -- an idea you could potentially extrapolate from Locke and Juliet's brief discussion of his age -- but it could be that Widmore was still a young man when Ben led the purge of Dharma, and then he got banished to the real world several decades earlier, at which point he began to age normally.

But back to the hero/villain question. Yes, Widmore sent his goons to take back the island by force, and they murdered Rousseau and Alex and blew up the boat with Michael and (maybe) Jin aboard. But do we ever want to taking Ben Linus' side of any dispute? Penny seems so terrified of her father finding out where she and Desmond are, but Desmond's visit to Widmore's office -- and Widmore's plea for Desmond to take Penny back to wherever they were hiding -- is a reminder that Penny really needs to be afraid of Ben, who's still seeking eye-for-an-eye vengeance for Alex's death.

And they are absolutely going to give me a heart attack waiting for something bad to happen to Desmond, or Penny, or both. It's amazing how this couple who've had a tiny sliver of the shared screen time compared to any combination of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle, or of Jin/Sun, have become the romantic pairing I care most about. That's a testament to Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger's performances, and to the brilliant heartstring-yanking climax of "The Constant," and to the way their story seems so integral to what the show is revealing itself to be about. I felt moved by the childbirth scene, even though I've seen variations on that about 9,000 times over the years, and I misted up a bit when I found out they'd named their son after Charlie (whose life Desmond had worked so hard to save, and whose sacrifice helped Penny find Desmond). As I watched Desmond steer his yacht, little Charlie on his lap, content as any man has a right to be, I felt a joy for him that I rarely feel for fictional characters, outside of maybe those rare moments where good things happen on "The Wire."

And as I felt happier and happier to watch these two, a voice inside my head got louder and louder with its warnings that something terrible is going to happen. No one on this show can be this blissful, this satisfied, with so much time left to go before the finale. I just know that Desmond is going to have to break his promise to Penny about going back to the island, or that Ben -- who's currently in the city that's next on the Hume family's travel itinerary -- is going to get to Penny before Desmond can stop him, and I'm not sure I can handle seeing that. (If my worst fears are proven right, expect that night's blog entry to be either a lot of incoherent wailing, or else a video like the crying Giants fan -- language NSFW.)

While Desmond and Penny are filling my heart with equal parts delight and dread, the episode deliberately left me unsure what to think about Dan Faraday. On the one hand, he manages to keep a cool head about him in the midst of all this island chaos, he seems concerned with helping everybody survive, and his feelings for Charlotte (and vice versa) appear to be very real. On the other hand, Desmond uncovers some disconcerting news about Dan's past as an Oxford researcher. We already saw from the 1996 scenes in "The Constant" that the younger Dan was kind of an arrogant SOB, so it shouldn't be that big of a surprise that he experimented on human subjects, or even that he'd abandon Theresa Spencer, the poor woman whose life he destroyed by sending her consciousness tripping back and forth through time.

But I'm assuming that Theresa was the woman in the photo Desmond found in Dan's old Oxford office -- that she was Dan's girlfriend, and that he talked her into being his guinea pig because he couldn't find anyone else to do it. That makes the abandonment more unsettling -- as Theresa's sister asks, "What kind of man does that?" -- and it also raises a whole lot of questions about Dan's relationship with Charlotte, who appears to die from the time sickness at episode's end, in the same way that Fisher Stevens did in "The Constant." Is there a chance that Charlotte has also played the guinea pig for Dan in the past? Or does her sickness and apparent death tie in to all the speculation that Charlotte was, like Widmore, born on the island? In previous seasons, I might be annoyed that they bumped off Charlotte before we ever got to find out what made her tick, but this season's chronological hijinx means that we almost certainly haven't seen the last of her.

How good is Jeremy Davies, by the way? There's a tendency to take what he does for granted because he specializes in playing this kind of twitchy outcast, but he more than deserves to be shoved center stage the way he's been this season. Just listen to the way he delivers a line like "Fantastic idea, really inspired" when Ellie the Other threatens to take a shot at him while he's standing near the hydrogen bomb; coming out of Sawyer's mouth, or Miles', it easily has a sarcastic undertone. But Davies' delivers it with complete exasperation, even exhaustion. Dan's mind is always racing faster than everyone else's, and you can see him doing all the mental calculus -- including the realization that the bomb problem will work itself out with or without him, because the island hadn't blown up 50 years in the future -- and growing frustrated that Ellie, like everyone else he deals with on the island, can't keep up with him. He's not cruel the way 1996 Dan was (though my opinion on that could change when we learn more about what happened to Charlotte), but he makes it clear how tiring it is to always be the smartest man in the room.

Again, this is definitely a Desmond/Daniel episode, but I don't want to gloss over the material between Locke (who has now definitively thrown in his lot with The Others) and the 1954 version of Richard Alpert. Operating under the show's closed-loop theory of time-travel, Locke takes the compass a future version of Richard gave him, hands it to the 1954 Richard and sets things in motion so that Richard will bring it along to "test" the young Locke in the scene we already witnessed in last season's "Cabin Fever." The Locke we see here has to remember how that meeting went, but he can't do anything to change it now -- per Dan, Desmond's the only character on the show with the ability to rewrite the timeline -- so I'm curious how this particular turn of events is going to help Locke find out the secret of getting off the island. I'm guessing we'll see Locke run into Richard in the '60s or '70s within another episode, and eventually Richard will believe the crazy bald guy.

The other day, I went back and re-watched season three's "The Brig" on ABC.com to see if there was anything in Locke and Richard's first scene together that played different in retrospect. And there definitely is: knowing that Locke encountered The Others in the past (and will probably do so a few more times this season) better explains why they're all so in awe of him around their camp, why they talk about "waiting" for him to show up, and also why Richard is so eager to help Locke subvert Ben's leadership. Richard knows that Locke is destined to be their leader down the road, and maybe Ben knows it, too, which would support his determination to get rid of Locke at every turn.

We talk a lot about whether Lindelof and Cuse had a master plan from the start, or whether they were making things up as they went along. We're not going to know that for sure until the series ends -- and maybe not even then -- but I think it's fair to say that there has been a plan in place going back at least to those meetings the producers had with ABC after everybody realized how much they hated "Stranger in a Strange Land" midway through season three. We may never get a satisfactory explanation of The Numbers, but I believe everything that's happened on the show for the last season and a half has been as meticulously plotted-out as it's feasible to do on a TV series. And the more I see of the new episodes, and on how they reflect back and amplify things we saw in the past -- the more I zip back and forth through time right along with Desmond, Dan and the rest -- the more confident I feel.

Some other thoughts on "Jughead":

• There was a lot of speculation last week that Dan's mother and Ms. Hawking might be the same person. Now that Widmore has said Dan's mom is in Los Angeles -- which is where we saw Ms. Hawking last week -- should we just assume that theory's correct, or do we need to be mindful of the Felix Unger rule about assuming?

• I was lucky enough to watch this episode a couple of weeks ago at the TV critics press tour, where ABC screened it on a couple of giant monitors right before a Q&A session with Lindelof and Cuse. Obviously, not everybody has the option of watching the show on a movie theater-sized screen, but I highly recommend the idea of the communal "Lost" viewing experience if you've never tried it. The collective "awwwww..." at the revelation of baby Charlie's name, and the cacophony of laughter, applause and gasps at the revelation of the young Widmore really enriched the hour, and was a reminder that television doesn't have to be watched in solitary fashion.

• Something else I was reminded of while re-watching "The Brig": what's happening to Cindy the flight attendant, and the kids, and anyone else The Others abducted from the tail section? Will they turn up at some point this season just as unstuck-in-time as Sawyer and company? Or is something at work beyond being a native, or being on the island a long time, that would have them traveling (or not traveling) with The Others, while Juliet (who was with the group a lot longer than Cindy) and Locke (ostensibly their leader) don't?

• I still don't completely follow how Desmond's exemption from the show's time travel rules works, but I like that Penny at least bothered to ask why he didn't remember meeting Faraday until several years later. Also, for the people still having a hard time following the show's closed-loop philosophy of time travel, I'd strongly recommend renting the movie "12 Monkeys," which operates along similar lines and does a pretty good job of explaining it in layman's terms.

• Sawyer and Miles would seem to be dead even in their battle for island comedy supremacy. On Miles' side of the ledger: him immediately pointing the soldiers towards Dan when they demanded to speak to a leader, and his "That's just awesome" response to Dan's suggestion that their predicament could resolve itself in 5 minutes or 5000 years. On Sawyer's side: "Hate to bust up the 'I'm an Other, you're an Other reunion," and his brilliant double-take upon getting a look at the bomb.

• And two more of the remaining Socks got lost in the dryer that is the island. (Credit/blame for that turn of a phrase goes to Dan Fienberg.) As Lindelof said a few weeks ago, the show has moved past the point where the Oceanic 815 passengers we don't know provide any value to the narrative, so I wouldn't get attached to anybody who isn't either a regular castmember or a beloved recurring character like Rose and Bernard.

• Maybe one of you can help me scratch a particular pop culture itch. Ever since I first heard this episode's title, my mind went not to Archie Andrews' asexual best pal, but to a random snippet of an '80s teen show or movie that I can't remember anything about, save that one character is acting crazy and introduces himself to someone else by claiming, "My name's Jughead. Jug. Head!" I want to say it's something Peter DeLuise did on "21 Jump Street," but that's a total shot in the dark. Ring a bell with anyone else?

One final note: this is the last of the episodes I've seen in advance, and I'll most likely be watching the rest of the season in real time with the rest of you. Early last season, I asked whether people preferred the ensuing reviews to be done fast or to be done thoroughly. The consensus at the time was you preferred depth over speed, but as the season moved along, people would start popping up to comment on other posts and complain that the "Lost" review wasn't done yet. So let me ask again: do you want something done as quickly as possible so you can start talking, or would you rather wait (usually until sometime late morning/early afternoon of the following day) for a more detailed review?

What did everybody else think?
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Scrubs, "My ABC's" & "My Cookie Pants": Flash back to flash forward

Spoilers for last night's two episodes of "Scrubs" coming up just as soon as I give a spoken word performance of the theme to "Blossom"...

As I discussed yesterday, these were the last two original episodes to air until "Scrubs" moves to Wednesdays at 8 starting March 18. (Cue the Alanis as we discus the irony of ABC involving "Scrubs" in the same kind of scheduling shenanigans that everyone said they'd be free of once they left NBC.) And this was an odd -- but still good -- combination to go out on for a while.

A few months ago, the "Scrubs" producers sent me (and a few other critics) a couple of episodes from the new season to see how the back-to-basics approach was working. Those were "My Jerks" and "My Last Words," the first two episodes that aired this season, but which were originally produced as the third and fourth episodes. It's clear from both the producers' choices of which to send me, and of the networks' decision of which to air first, that everybody decided these were much stronger than the first one or two, which would be shelved and aired later.

And "My ABC's" was clearly written and produced as the originally-planned season premiere. They went back to add in a couple of more current continuity references (Elliot says she's dating JD, and claims that Katie isn't annoying anymore), but it's designed as an introduction to the interns, it explains why Kelso is still hanging around the hospital (which "My Jerks" didn't), and sets up various running gags (Katie is a backstabber, JD calls Denise "Jo" after the character from "Facts of Life") that we already saw introduced in "My Jerks."

So it was awkward to watch Elliot not realize that Katie was manipulating her when she's known for a while what a little conniver Katie is, or to have Denise react to the Jo nickname like it was the first time she'd heard it. Under different circumstances with regards to time and budget, maybe they'd have had time to fix more than just looping in a few of Sarah Chalke's lines -- maybe Katie convinces Elliot that she's changed, only to backslide again, or Denise points out that she's tiring of the nickname (which still leads into the "I like banging dudes" exchange, which was very funny) -- but I understand why they had to air it. After all, there are only 12 remaining episodes of "Scrubs" ever after this, plus they did go to all that trouble to get the "Sesame Street" Muppets. So it had to air, and the further away we got from the start of the season, the weirder it was going to be.

Elmo, Grover and friends translated well into the adult setting without losing their innate Muppet-ness. Yeah, Elmo was attracted to Denise, but not in a way that's going to destroy my ability to watch him with a straight face in the future. Oscar the Grouch seemed an apt partner for The Janitor, and Grover an appropriate victim for one of The Todd's over-exuberant high-fives (or high-fours, as the case may be).

"My ABC's" was also necessary, sort of, to set up the JD/Denise story in "My Cookie Pants." (The dead cancer patient story could have been JD describing a case we never saw, I suppose.) The second episode was another example of how scaling down the wackiness and letting the characters be human again has really benefited the show this year. JD and Elliot seemed like a real couple, which made some of the silliness (JD scarfing down all 12 cookies, Elliot pumping Turk for suggestions on how to satisfy JD) stand out better. And I don't know that the JD of seasons 6 or 7 would have been able to carry a straight dramatic scene like JD and Denise's heart-to-heart.

I have only one complaint about the second show (which also featured a Tina Two-Kids reference and the very promising prospect of a Kelso/Cox friendship): "endoscopy" is pronounced "end-ah-scup-ee," not "end-oh-scope-ee," and it drove me nuts when they used the second pronunciation every single time. For a show that prides itself on how much it consults with real doctors, they have one of these bizarre pronunciations every couple of seasons. Could their medical consultant be punking them?

What did everybody else think?
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Comedy. Ha-ha.

I wanted to do a blog entry yesterday on ABC's decision to move "Scrubs" to Wednesday and set up a sitcom bloc on Thursdays from 8 to 9, but I needed to nail down one detail first. Some thoughts on the moves, and also what that says about the state of NBC's once-dominant Thursday sitcoms, coming up after the jump...

As the story I linked to above says, "Scrubs" is going to move to Wednesdays at 8 in mid-March, where it'll be paired with "Better Off Ted," a new comedy from Victor Fresco that's very much in the vein of his Fox show "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (though what I've seen so far isn't as good as "Andy Richter" was). Originally, ABC was going to air new "Scrubs" episodes back-to-back on Tuesdays until they'd run through all 18 from this season, at which point the show was going to give way to the return of "Dancing with the Stars." Instead, tonight's episodes will be the last two originals until the move to Wednesday -- ABC will air "Scrubs" repeats from 9 to 10 until "Dancing" is back -- and obviously only one episode will air per week, along with "Ted." If I've done the math right, there will be 12 episodes of "Scrubs" remaining and only 10 weeks to go in the season when it moves to Wednesdays. But I also don't know how many episodes of "Ted" are being made, and so I suppose "Scrubs" could start doubling up again towards the end.

Now, the other notable development from all this -- and the one that most of the other news stories have emphasized -- is that "Samantha Who?" (which got bumped by these extra-long "Bachelor" episodes) will be moving to Thursdays at 8, followed by "In the Motherhood" (a TV adaptation of a web-com). Ausiello took this as a sign of ABC's displeasure with "Ugly Betty," while James Hibberd was more intrigued with the idea that NBC's 8 p.m. comedies ("My Name Is Earl" and, for now, "Kath & Kim") are vulnerable in a way they haven't been in the past when other networks tried Thursday comedies.

I haven't watched "Ugly Betty" in years and have no opinion on that, but I have to admit that the presence of "Kath & Kim at 8:30 pretty much eliminated any desire I had to watch "Earl" (a show I've always been on the fence about) at 8, the rare instance of a lead-out causing someone to not watch the lead-in, instead of vice versa. When the Amy Poehler/Greg Daniels/Mike Schur comedy -- which was just titled "Public Service" -- debuts in early April, that'll probably change, but "Kath & Kim" is so toxic that I don't even want to put on NBC until 9 p.m. Of course, I was always just as on the fence about "Samantha Who?" (good lead performance in the middle of a show that tries too hard) and haven't seen "In the Motherhood" yet, so I don't know that I'll be watching those, either, or just using the hour for DVR clean-out.

But that's me. How, if at all, are these moves going to affect your own comedy viewing habits?
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House, "Big Baby": Is it that Mr. Sinnalinden again?

Spoilers for last night's "House" coming up just as soon as I watch "Fletch" for the 8,000th time...

That? That was a pretty good one.

Heck, I didn't even mind the Foreman/Thirteen stuff that much. A smiling, upbeat Thirteen (even if it's only for an episode until they pull the rug out from under her next week) isn't nearly the charisma vacuum she is when she's her usual nihilist self, House needling them about their obvious affair was funny, and all of Foreman's attempts to get the senior docs' permission to violate the study were nice showcases for the various relationships.

The House/Foreman scene in particular was a nice moment of humanity from ol' crankypants, in an episode where he was pretty on the mark about people's behavior instead of just being contrary for the sake of it. You could argue, I guess, that he nudged Foreman towards taking Thirteen off the placebo just because he's curious to see what happens, but he was so on the ball (albeit blunt) about almost everyone(*) that I think we're supposed to read that conversation as at least partly genuine.

(*) I kept dreading the inevitable epilogue where the teacher turns out to be terrible with the autistic boy once her medical problem was solved, and I liked the more optimistic take. Yes, she no longer has the automatic Don't Worry, Be Happy reaction to things like getting spilled on, but the surgery didn't completely rewrite her personality the way House assumed it would, and she cared too much for the kid to let a little spill bother her for more than a moment.

I also thought House and Cameron trying to game each other was very well done -- and a vast improvement over those times where they bring in an outside authority figure like Vogler to try to rein in House -- and the only disappointment was that it ended, and for a relatively lame reason. Cuddy has never controlled House this well. Never. It's a hallmark of both the show and her character that she either caves in to House, or he ignores her and she doesn't reprimand him for it. I quite liked this dynamic, and don't think Cameron was nearly the pile of mush she seemed to think she was.

Overall, though, a vast improvement over what we've gotten lately. Or maybe I'm just cutting the whole episode so much slack because of the brief glimpses of Taub and Thirteen laughing as Irwin Maurice Fletcher tried to get some info about his airline reservation. Have I mentioned recently that I went through a year of college where my friend Fitz and I never had an actual conversation, but simply quoted "Fletch" lines at each other? Is that something I probably should have kept to myself?

What did everybody else think?
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Jack, you're a grown man. You have control over your own words.

So, the open thread idea worked pretty well the last time I tried it, and then press tour got in the way of doing another one. So for the next 24 hours or so, fire away with questions or comments on stuff that doesn't seem germane to other posts, and I'll do my best to respond as often as I can. Since it's more of a free-for-all, please try to be respectful of others when it comes to spoilers for whatever you're discussing.

UPDATE:100+ comments later, we're going to wrap this one up and try again in a week or two. Click here to read the full post

If you want to talk 'Big Love'...

... you can either discuss last night's episode here, or you can go read Todd VanDerWerff's breakdown over at The House Next Door. After going back and forth on it, I've decided that I have nothing to offer on the show other than my standard Women=Awesome/Bill+Juniper Creek=Lame formula, and that's not enough to sustain weekly reviews. So have at it on your own time. Click here to read the full post

Coming up tonight: 'Trust Me'

I was going to write about TNT's "Trust Me" as today's column, but something else got in the way, and I didn't care enough about the show to argue for it. Instead, here's the little blurb I wrote for our daily guide to notable primetime programming (which is usually print-only):
No one smokes, drinks Old Fashioneds or wears fedoras, but a lack of resemblance to "Mad Men" is the least of the problems for "Trust Me," a bland new drama set in the world of modern advertising. Eric McCormack from "Will & Grace" and Tom Cavanagh from "Ed" play partners at a Chicago ad firm who spend most of tonight's premiere trying to come up with a slogan for a cell phone campaign. The dialogue is flat and the characters are mostly forgettable -- except for the one played by Monica Potter, who's as annoying as every other Monica Potter character. (Though, in fairness, this one seems to be intentionally annoying.) Definitely skippable.
Haven't decided yet whether I'll do a separate review of the pilot tonight. If you don't see something new here around 11, just use this post to comment, if anyone cares. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Flight of the Conchords, "The New Cup": Our Nigerian friend

Spoilers for tonight's "Flight of the Conchords" coming up just as soon as I bake some nut loaf...

"I knew if you bought a cup I'd end up in jail." -Jemaine

"The New Cup" doesn't erase the concerns I have about the Conchords' musical numbers from last week's episode or next week's. Taken on its own, though, this was perfection, as both comedy and as musical.

"Sugar Lumps" was one of the catchiest, funniest music videos they've done to date (and not not just because it appropriately worked Dave into the fun). Bret's reggae-inflected plea for Jemaine to give up a life of prostitution was almost as entertaining.

But at this point, I'm watching "Conchords" for the deadpan farce more than the tunes, and this one was magnificently constructed. They really put in the time to explain all the ways that Bret's purchase of a $2.79 cup would destroy the guys' lives, which led to three beautiful pay-offs at the end: Bret getting arrested by making an untimely reference to his day job, Jemaine's line in the jail cell that I quoted above, and then the Rube Goldberg-ian path of destruction for the new cup the moment the power company turned the lights back on.

Weaving hilariously in and out of the money problems, Bret's counter-productive super-straw business, and Bret and Jemaine's attempt to entice prostitution clients by offering them a piece of nut loaf, we got Murray being one of the last men in the country naive enough to believe in the Nigerian internet scam, and the only one lucky enough for this to turn out to involve an actual Nigerian with an actual business proposition. Maybe the internet really is, as Murray puts it, "one of the trusted things of today's society," and I should stop giving Murray such a hard time.

(Why can't I find my own Nigelo Soladu? I promise not to spend my half of the profits on bailing my idiot clients out of jail.)

Really, every corner of this episode was filled with straight-faced gags that busted me up: Doug trying to be cool about Mel getting massaged by the Conchords (and Mel's orgasmic reaction to barely being touched by Jemaine), or the awkward and lengthy conversation between Jemaine and Eugene the landlord about how Eugene knows so much about prostitution, or Murray's digression on the bass as "the daddy guitar." I'm not sure I can think of a first season episode that made me laugh as consistently as "The New Cup" did.

Finally, I'm doing an interview with Bret, Jemaine and "Conchords" producer James Bobin tomorrow morning, and I'm open to suggestions for things to ask about. No promises, depending on how the conversation goes, but fire away.

What did everybody else think?
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United States of Tara, "Aftermath": Time to start loving Orel

Spoilers for episode two of "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I buy tickets to the Genesis reunion tour...

"It's like they don't even want me around when I'm me." -Tara

"Aftermath" spends a lot of time introducing Alice, the last of Tara's main alters, but it also spends more time than the pilot did on Tara herself -- how she feels about waking up from one of her blackouts, how the success and popularity of the alters is giving her an inferiority complex towards herself, and how she tries to live a functional life within the confines of her disorder.

The family meeting (or "summit," as Marshall tries to call it) was a nice illustration of the mechanics of the Gregson household, as Tara runs through T's credit card charges, gets more info on the shiner she got as Buck, and tries to fill in all the blanks from her time away. The alters have an advantage on her, as they seem to know everything that goes on while they're dormant, while Tara never does.

Just as she's starting to get a handle on her latest episodes, and attempting to heal the rift with Kate over the morning-after pill, she has that mortifying encounter with the other soccer moms who make it clear how sorry they feel for her, and -- poof! -- Tara's gone, and '50s sitcom housewife Alice is at the controls.

And the thing that has to eat at Tara the most is how necessary the other personalities can be. Alice stands up to the moms when she can't, gets Marshall to admit to his bed-wetting problem, and plays a hilarious mind-game on Marshall's awkwardly-named teacher, Orel Gershinson (played by Tony Hale, without his Buster Bluth hook-hand, alas).

There's a downside, obviously, beyond filling Tara with self-loathing. Alice winds up making things worse with Kate by literally washing her mouth out with soap, but on balance, and unlike the other alters, she has designs on taking over Tara's body full-time. She's not quite the master manipulator she thinks of herself as -- Max, thankfully, sees right through her -- but the idea of one part of Tara conspiring against another part shows another way in which this isn't just a wacky game of dress-up.

Some other thoughts:

• The costume changes make it easy for us to identify the alters, which I suppose is important this early in the process, but it does seem like Tara always has a nice window to go home and get dressed whenever they occur. What happens if her psyche decides Buck needs to come out in a hurry and there's no time to ditch the skirt and heels? Or if there's a direct transition from Buck to Alice?

• Joining Tony Hale in the guest star roster: Patton Oswalt as Max's best friend and landscaping employee Neil, and Nate Corddry as the manager of the restaurant where Kate applies for a job as an escape from the Gregson household. It's a good bunch.

• Midwestern America and suburbia are both easy targets in movies and TV shows (see "American Beauty," for instance), so I'm always wary when a character utters a line like Mr. Gershinson's "We're not in Vermont." But the rest of his scenes, and Alice's psychoanalytical "It's time to start loving Orel" monologue, suggest his objections to Marshall are less about Kansas provincialism than about him trying to work out some unresolved high school issues, and I can live with that.

• Does Marshall having a female sidekick who dresses like Ayn Rand and is similarly pretentious (mocking Gershinson for having gone to a state school) make his own '40s affectations seem more natural (like the two of them decided on it together), or less?

What did everybody else think?
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica, "A Disquiet Follows My Soul": Okay, what's next?

Spoilers for tonight's "Battlestar Galactica" coming up just as soon as I give my teeth a good brushing...

"You know, there are days that I really hate this job." -Bill Adama

Last week's episode was about philosophy. This one's about practicality.

Where most of "Sometimes a Great Notion" was spent on the characters -- and the audience -- trying to make sense of the ruined state of Earth and one mind-bending revelation after another, "A Disquiet Follows My Soul" features the rag-tag fleet attempting to get back to business. There will be time for soul-searching, and for answers, later, but right now, everyone needs to figure out what to do now that Earth has turned out to be an even bigger dump than New Caprica.

The need to move on is signified with the long opening sequence of Adama going through his normal morning routine. To a career military man, routine is everything, and as we see him brushing his teeth, showering, taking out a fresh uniform, we see him setting aside all the angst he's been wallowing in for the last few episodes. No more crying, or punching mirrors, or getting blitzed -- there's work to be done, and that can only be done if the fleet is in the right mindset, and if its leader is setting the tone from the top down. (Note that he even starts picking up litter whenever he finds some in the Galactica corridors; if you let the little problems build up, ignored, then people feel free to create bigger ones.)

And, for the moment, the fleet only has the one leader. Where Bill has his act back together, Roslin is checked out, prepared to die on her own terms, luxuriating in the adrenaline rush of stopping her chemo treatments, and leaving the civilian government in the fear-mongering paws of Tom Zarek.

In some ways, this incarnation of Laura is more disturbing than last week's silent, fetal-positioned mess, or the vengeful robot she let herself become for much of the first half of this season. At least then, she allowed herself to feel something about the plight of her constituency, even if she overreacted to those feelings, curling into a ball or curtailing civil liberties. As Laura freely admits, she just wants to live a little before she dies, and the fleet can go crying to some other mommy the next time it stubs its toe. The moment when Bill and Laura finally consummate their relationship, finally give into their feelings even more freely than when she declared her love for him at the end of "Hub," should feel triumphant, the release of four years of anticipated build-up. Instead, it feels sad. I wouldn't begrudge either party their desire to get some before the apocalypse comes, to find some kind of happiness amidst all this tragedy, but I wish they could have reached this point before Laura gave up on humanity, both her own and everyone else's. I look at her glowing, and wish I could share in her happiness, but I can't.

When he isn't trying to corral, and eventually bed, the vacationing Commander-in-Chief, Adama has to deal with the realities of the fleet's current situation. Where do they go now? How do they stay safe from whatever's left of Brother Cavil's Cylon faction? And what's to be done about this fragile alliance with Six's faction? It was one thing for the fleet to go along with a short-term alliance, when it seemed like everyone's happy ending on Earth was just around the corner, but Zarek has a point: why should the fleet throw in its lot with the people who put it in this current horrible predicament? Even if they got to witness Natalie and Leoben and the rest have their come-to-Jesus moment (come-to-Baltar moment?) where they realized that maybe genocide was a mistake, would they care? And why, especially given how vehemently Adama opposed networking his ship's computers back in the miniseries, shouldn't people be shocked and outraged by the idea that he now wants every ship in the fleet to install Cylon tech?

(For more on Adama's reasoning on this point, I strongly recommend Mo Ryan's interview with Ron Moore on this episode.)

Zarek has a point. So, for that matter, does Gaeta, his new partner in insurrection. From our omniscient point of view as fans of the series, we can trust Tigh and Tyrol and Athena and maybe the rest of the rebel Cylons, but if we'd lived through this four-year nightmare? If we'd lost friends, loved ones, a leg, etc., to the toasters, and now our military leader -- who has a habit of making unilateral decisions that affect all of our lives -- declares that we're now bestest buddies with them, wouldn't we maybe think it's time for a coup?

The various Gaeta and Zarek scenes through the episode crackled, especially Felix confronting Kara about that fun time when she and two of her best Cylon buddies almost threw him out an airlock for allegedly consorting with the enemy. Alessandro Juliani hasn't been asked to do that much heavy lifting over the years, but he absolutely shines in this spotlight episode, showing you every ounce of Felix's hatred as Tigh demands to be called "sir," and matching every bit of Katee Sackhoff's feral energy as Starbuck and Gaeta swap insults. (Her: "Rimshot, big laugh, applause, applause, applause." Him: "So I guess a pity frak's out of the question, then?")

Richard Hatch got his own wonderful sarcastic moments -- asking Lee, "Are you the president again? Sorry, I get confused what your job is on any given day." -- and was allowed to make salient points, even though he was wrapping them up in the language of fear. My only complaint with this story is the evidence Adama finds of Zarek's corruption. Yes, this was set up all the way back in "Black Market," but for a show that usually relishes its moral ambiguity, I think it's an easy out to allow Adama to rightfully accuse Zarek of such hypocrisy. Wouldn't things be a lot messier -- and even more compelling -- if Zarek was every bit the freedom fighter he bills himself as? Wouldn't it be a lot harder to root against the insurrection, even though we've been on Adama's side since the miniseries?

The other practical matters to be dealt with here are questions of paternity. Tigh is, in fact, Caprica Six's baby daddy, which means that Cylon-Cylon breeding is somehow possible (and it would have to be, given the number and variety of Cylons we saw in the flashbacks to Earth pre-nuking).

Tyrol's son, on the other hand, turns out not to be his off-spring, but the result of a short-lived affair between Cally and dumb ol' Hot Dog. That addresses two issues at once. First, it means that Hera is still the only human-Cylon hybrid to date, which the writers had to address once they retroactively decided Tyrol was a Cylon. Second, it gives Tyrol -- already having pronoun trouble when it comes to referring to his newfound Cylon brothers -- even less of a connection to humanity. He thought Nicky was his own blood, raised him as such for the first few years of the boy's life, and will still care for him even after Hot Dog more fully enters the picture, but finding out he doesn't have any human relations (or half-relations) makes it even easier to start thinking of the Cylons as "us" and the humans as "them."

And when Gaeta and Zarek and their friends inevitably attempt to forcefully separate the humans from the Cylons, I don't think Tyrol's going to have a problem choosing sides. Do you?

Some other thoughts on "A Disquiet Follows My Soul":

• This was Ron Moore's directorial debut after four years of running the show, and several decades as a TV and film writer. A few of the sequences (Adama's multiple bouts of dental hygine obsession, Roslin sprinting through the corridors, Baltar's sermon) called attention to themselves, this final season has become more visually adventurous, so these didn't feel out of place.

• Baltar's sermon, in which he turns his back on his "you are perfect, because God is perfect" mantra and suggests that God has some questions to answer -- if He exists at all -- was the episode's one big philosophical moment, but even it felt practical. After Baltar spent the first half of the season spreading the monotheistic word, he would almost have to deal with the implications of God's plan turning out to be really imperfect, wouldn't he?

• Lee's slip at the press conference about the gender of the final Cylon makes it clear that Tigh told other people about his discovery about Ellen at the end of "Sometimes a Great Notion." Starbuck, on the other hand, appears to be keeping her own discoveries to herself, and it's eating her up inside.

• Am I nuts, or is one of the on-lookers cheering on the Tyrol/Hot Dog brawl Brent Spiner? He and Moore do have a professional history together, after all; maybe he was in Vancouver on this particular day and wandered by.

What did everybody else think?
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Friday Night Lights, "Tami Knows Best": I like my squab rare, dagnabit!

Spoilers for "Friday Night Lights" season three, episode two, coming up just as soon as I enroll in one of Buddy Garrity's yoga classes...

NOTE: This and all subsequent "FNL" season three reviews were written after viewing the DirecTV cut, which can be several minutes longer than the NBC version. So both my review and the early comments may refer to scenes that were not shown on NBC.

You know I like to begin reviews of the better dramas on television with some kind of signature quote from the episode, but when "Friday Night Lights" is clicking like it does for most of "Tami Knows Best," it's the moments where nothing's said that tell the story.

Following on last week's B/B+ effort, "Tami Knows Best" continued to retreat comfortably back into the show's wheelhouse -- Saracen's family burden, Riggins' self-destructive streak, Buddy's ruthlessness, etc. -- but it added more than a few of those spine-tingling moments I didn't get from "I Knew You When."

Start with the scene the episode should have ended on (more on the reasons for that in the bullet points): Eric walking out of the Williams house and pausing to enjoy the sounds of joy from inside as Smash, Mama Smash and Sister Smash celebrated the news of his Texas A&M tryout. Just perfectly played by Kyle Chandler, who has Coach's emotional meter so finely tuned that he can wow you just by changing the mood a degree or two.

It was one of two great Smash-related scenes this week, with the other obviously being the bulk of the Panthers roster coming out in full pads to help Smash regain his confidence by feeling part of something larger. I suspected that was what Coach had in mind from the minute Smash confessed his fears, but it was still goosebump-inducing to see them march out. (Even better was the pure delight on the faces of everyone in the scrimmage, including Coach calling plays in the huddle. Because of the big-time pressure of Texas high school football, and current issues like JD McCoy, Riggins' self-confidence, etc., the games themselves always feel really tense; it was nice to be reminded just how much fun these characters can have with the game.)

Or take most of the moments of the Saracen storyline. Even more than the pressure to succeed as the starting quarterback, Matt's home life has been the strongest part of his story (the brief return of Mr. Saracen from Iraq was one of the few season two arcs that really worked). Zach Gilford and the writers (and, for that matter, Louanne Stephens as Grandma) just kill it every time we have to see what a huge and unfair burden Matt has to live with, and to pivot that and have Matt tell Grandma that he's become a good man because of her was really beautiful. Just as good was Matt's brief, tense encounter with his mom (played by "Deadwood" vet Kim Dickens), where the simple line, "It's me, Matt... your son" told us all we needed to know about how long it's been since they saw each other and/or how little Matt thinks of his mom.

It looks like we're heading towards a Matt/Julie reunion, and while I don't have any strong feelings for or against, it was nice to see him get to see the world through her optimistic eyes for a moment, to imagine what it must be like when your biggest problem is whether you'll get to buy a used Celica, and to see that Celica as a life-changing vehicle.

The other stories weren't quite as abundant with the goose pimples, but they were all solid, nonetheless.

I continue to believe that Tami is being incredibly stupid and/or naïve about the JumboTron situation. Ganking the money in the first place was questionable -- she should know by now what Eric tried to tell her about the unstoppable force that is Buddy Garrity -- but rather than continue to stonewall and point to her rights within the bylaws, she should have switched from the stick to the carrot and agreed to return most of the money in exchange for keeping some for badly-needed school programs, and/or sweet talking Buddy and the boosters into making more of an effort to fund the entire school. That said, I believe that she actually would be that naïve in this situation, so it's not a credibility problem. And this storyline is giving Buddy -- who was a pathetic, comic relief character for a good chunk of last year -- his teeth back, which is important in the grand scheme of the show and its themes about the true cost of caring so much (too much?) about this team.

Buddy also got to bare his fangs for poor Riggins, who had let Lyla talk him out of his usual neuroses and was all prepped for a good, well-behaved time with the McCoys, only to have all his confidence stripped away in about 10 seconds. Riggins' refusal to rat out Buddy to Lyla rang true with his refusal to tell Eric the truth about Julie last year: deep down, Tim feels like he's supposed to be punished for things, and also that nobody would probably believe him if he told the truth about situations where he isn't at fault. The usual good work from Taylor Kitsch (and I can't believe how far he's come from early in season one, when I would have been happy to never see him or Minka Kelly again), and I also like that the writers have let Lyla understand Tim enough that she doesn't freak out at entering the Riggins house to find Tim in his boxers watching TV with Tyra.

And speaking of the very tall and politically adept Ms. Collette, Tyra's run for student council president on the slut ticket was primarily comic relief, but it was worth it for the final scene between Tami and Tyra. If she manages to survive JumboGate, I can see Tami getting into more trouble over her pet project, and Tyra's impulsive enough that it may be hard for her to rein in her tendency to make the easy but dangerous choice.

All around, I continue to be extremely pleased with the show's rebound from season two.

Some other thoughts on "Tami Knows Best":

* Chronologically, the final scene with Matt and Julie should have been placed earlier in the episode, since Matt was only borrowing Landry's car for the one night to see his mom, and since we already saw him back in town the following night for the scrimmage with Smash. (Plus, we got a scene back at school, which meant the entire weekend had passed.) So why was it at the end as opposed to the Coach/Smash scene? My guess is that, with Smash on his way out, they didn't want to close the first two episodes in a row on his storyline, but that they wanted to close on some kind of hopeful note, and the bit with the Celica seemed better than Lyla bringing Riggins a cheeseburger.

* Speaking of the Landrymobile 2.0, how understanding is Mr. Clarke to buy Landry another car after what happened with the last one? Or did he just feel guilty for burning the station wagon?

* Yes, that was Janine Turner from "Northern Exposure" as Mrs. McCoy. It doesn't seem that long ago (even though it was nearly 20 years!) that she was going to be the Next Big Thing, but as happens so often with NBTs, it never quite materialized.

* I'm sure I'm far from the only viewer who got a big Tracy Flick vibe off of the actress playing Tyra's political rival. (God, "Election" came out nearly 10 years ago. Somehow, that makes me feel even older than looking up the "Northern Exposure" premiere date.)

* I should say, by the way, that I didn't in any way find Tyra's victory implausible. I was wildly unpopular in my school, and yet somehow I wound up as student council president because the school had recently eliminated parking privileges for anyone who wasn't a senior, and in my speech to the then-sophomores, I promised to do my best to bring back junior parking. Like so many campaign promises, it was harder to achieve than it was to talk about, but it proved as effective a wedge issue as sex at the prom was for Tyra.

* Lyla actually had a bunch of funny lines tonight, including her telling Tim that the only thing he knows about dressing himself is "how to put on a plaid shirt and button one button," and, in response to Google-savvy Tim insisting he isn't retarded, "Sometimes, you act like you are." For that matter, her reaction to Buddy asking the condom question was pretty priceless. I don't even mind Minka Kelly anymore, really.

* The mortification in Julie's voice as she said "Yeah, I work at Applebee's" sounded like it was half about Julie, half about Aimee Teegarden being annoyed to get stuck with the product integration this week.

What did everybody else think?
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Three Friday Night Lights things

Three "Friday Night Lights" points:
  1. I did an interview for NPR's "All Things Considered" to bridge the end of the DirecTV season and the start of the NBC run, but it got bumped by inauguration preview stories. It ran today, and you can listen to it here.
  2. Because I'm re-posting the original versions of each episode review in order to retain the comments, they're not going to ping RSS readers, so don't forget to click here to see the latest review.
  3. A number of people complained that I yanked the DirecTV reviews before they had a chance to read my take on the last couple of episodes. Since I didn't give a lot of notice about this, I've temporarily re-posted the reviews for the penultimate episode, "Underdogs," and for the season finale, "Tomorrow Blues." They'll be back up for one week, until next Friday, so if you recorded them on DirecTV and haven't watched yet, you have between now and then to read 'em, or to simply save them for later reading, and then they're going away again until the episodes air on NBC.
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The Beast, "Two Choices": Don't mess with D

Brief spoilers for the second episode of "The Beast" coming up just as soon as I tell you how I like my coffee...

Based on both the minimal comments last week and the surprisingly low premiere ratings (good reviews or bad, you'd assume at least a little rubbernecking factor), it doesn't seem as if too many people around these parts are interested in "The Beast" talk. And that may be fine: Thursday nights are a traffic jam for me, and I'm still on the fence about the show through these two episodes (which are the ones I got to see in advance).

There were some improvements here from the pilot, namely Larry Gilliard Jr. getting promoted from one of a bunch of guys trying to get Swayze's partner to flip on him into the only guy doing it. No doubt the producers liked what they saw out of Gilliard in the pilot (that or they watched "The Wire" season one) and decided to get more out of him.

But I think the show's still being too vague about what Swayze's allegedly doing and why it's bad. I'm not asking the writers to put all their cards on the table by the end of the second episode, but right now things are so unclear as to be uninteresting, and Swayze's gruffness and Gilliard's piercing stare will only take me so far.

I'm also not in love with doing these relatively self-contained undercover operations. There's often a desire for shows like these to have a procedural plot in each episode to make it easier for new or casual viewers, but what's always interested me about undercover work are the long-term aspects of it: the difficulty of having to live your cover for an extended period, the risk of growing too close to your target, and all the other things that made a show like "Wiseguy" so good. Showing Swayze and Tarzan getting in and out of a cover by the end of each episode not only makes those cases forgettable, but it makes what they do seem less special somehow.

Anyway, I'm in for a few more weeks, and we'll see how much two of the three main performances are going to keep me interested beyond that.

What did everybody (or anybody) else think?
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Grey's Anatomy, "Stairway to Heaven": Ghost/not-a-ghost?

Spoilers for last night's "Grey's Anatomy" coming up just as soon as I smell some lemons...

I watched the last two episodes at odd hours during press tour and could never find a window to blog on them. But despite my fatigue, and my general disdain for this season since the Denny's ghost arc began, I found myself... not only not hating them, but actually liking them quite a bit. Yes, throughout this mini-arc I had to ignore all the Denny/Izzie stuff (which was mercifully brief until tonight), and to once again accept that there will never be any professional consequences for any of the insane things these surgeons do on a weekly basis. But the emotional conflicts -- between Meredith and Cristina, between Meredith and Derek, Bailey and time -- and Eric Stoltz's performance were all very strong, and helped carry me through some of the sillier parts. Chandra Wilson took her own performance to a new level with the Bailey storyline, and last night's closing montage, set to "Drifting Further Away" by Powderfinger, was one of the best needle drops the series has ever used. Even though I'd sort of lost the thread of why Meredith felt compassion for the serial killer, or even why she and Cristina hadn't made up yet, that song over those scenes gave them a power they might have otherwise lacked.

On the other hand, we apparently come to the end of Denny's appearances -- but not the end of Izzie's part of the story -- and I still don't know whether or not Denny's a ghost, regardless of what the head of ABC said last week. It would seem, as many of us speculated, that Izzie has some kind of serious medical problem that could have caused Denny to appear as a hallucination. But their final argument played out in a way implying something else: that celestial forces sent Denny to warn Izzie about her problem, and that Denny took advantage of the opportunity to rekindle the affair.

Now, I'll go with Meredith hanging out with Denny and Dylan the bomb squad guy while she's clinically dead -- it wasn't my favorite story of the series, but it worked in the context of that situation -- but this is just aggressively silly, even by the standards of a show where nobody ever gets fired for career-ending mistakes, and where one of the characters in this episode suffers a mortifying groin-related injury.

Steve McPherson promised that this story would turn out to be "insightful and actually smart." I ain't seeing that yet, not remotely, and if there's a better payoff coming, we've had to wait far too long for it.

What did everybody else think?
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30 Rock, "Retreat To Move Forward": Camp value

Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I badmouth synergy...

"Make Mommy proud of you because you're the best!" -Jack

"Retreat To Move Forward" petered out near the end (even with the use of C&C Music Factory, I expected Liz's self-sacrificing humiliation to be something much grander), and the Tracy/Kenneth plot didn't work at all until it intersected with the Jenna/Frank story, but overall, this was one of the best, funniest episodes of what's been a distressingly uneven season of "30 Rock."

With all the guest stars gone for now, this one made good use of virtually the entire cast(*), including our first trip into the writers' room in a while. Jack and Liz's story, with or without the camp metaphor, was a funny commentary on how close they've become since the pilot, and on how the more traditional, Six Sigma-revering GE execs might react to that. Plus, it had Jack name-checking Judy Blume, and Liz using a robot voice to discuss her "robot penis," so even if the entire episode had been a wasteland, I probably would have loved it.

(*) The one exception, as usual: Pete, who didn't appear at all that I can remember. What has Scott Adsit done to tick off the writing staff? Is he off doing a movie? I need my weekly taste of Hornberger!

Meanwhile, you knew that Jenna and Frank were going to hook up sooner or later, and that there would be an unexpected twist to it. I wasn't that surprised by Frank turning out to be more embarrassed by the whole thing than Jenna, but I was by all the fringe-y office women (Jenna's hairdresser, the elderly Russian cleaning lady) coming out of the woodwork as past Frank conquests. Between that and his and Twofer's obvious pleasure at the Wikipedia prank was a nice use of the outer rims of the show's cast.

I have some interviews to do in a few minutes, so no time to run through the usual list of other things I found funny (Dr. Spaceman not knowing how to say "diabetes," Frank telling Jenna "Your hands are weird," to name two), so go to town.

What did everybody else think?
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